Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP
President Biden assured Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky that he will defend Ukraine in its tensions with Russia.
Biden’s comments, which were made in a phone call between the two leaders on Monday, were seen as a sign of support for Kiev ahead of Biden’s high-stakes summit in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16.
“President Biden was able to tell President Zelensky that he will staunchly defend Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and aspirations as we move forward,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. “And he also told President Zelensky that he hopes to welcome him to the White House here in Washington this summer after his return from Europe.”
Thanks @POTUS @Joe Biden for inviting me to visit the @White House in July during our phone conversation. I look forward to this meeting to discuss ways to expand strategic cooperation between Ukraine and #USA
– Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) June 7, 2021
Sullivan suggested that the call was planned in advance, but in particular came after a Axios interview published over the weekend in which Zelensky implored Biden to meet with him before meeting Putin, insisting that he would be willing to meet with Biden “anytime, anywhere on the planet.”
Zelensky, who was elected president in 2019, has made closer relations with the West a centerpiece of his foreign policy. His country has been in conflict with Russia since Putin annexed the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine in 2014.
Zelensky’s desire for an Oval Office meeting with an American president was at the core of former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment process.
Biden’s meeting with Putin comes in the context of recent Russian-derived ransomware attacks and Russian interference in the US elections. Still, the White House defended the meeting. At a press conference on Monday, Sullivan insisted that the summit was not a “reward” for Putin, but rather a way to effectively manage the relationship.
The United States also plans to administer 900,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Ukraine, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. As demand is running low domestically, the US has started shipping surplus doses overseas.